Photos by: Tourism Australia
On top of Down Under: Australia’s Mountains
While Australia’s mountains aren’t towering by world standards, a hike to their peaks provides sublime views of surrounding landscapes, which range from verdant rainforests to red deserts and fertile plains.
Mt. Gillen, NT
Situated within the Alice Springs Desert Park, Mt. Gillen is a popular spot for hiking. Access to the mountain trail starts from Flynn’s Grave (father of the Royal Flying Doctor Service) at the base of the mountain which is about 7km from the town of Alice Springs. The dusty trail provides no tree cover, with the eroded track leading to the rock face about 20m below the summit where a bit of scrambling is needed. From the summit, you’ll have a 360o view of the surrounding Heavitree Range and the valley below. While it is a popular hike, there are plans to ban hiking in the area due to soil erosion.
Briggs Bluff, VIC
Part of a series of rugged sandstone mountain ranges that rise abruptly from the surrounding Western Plains, the rocky plateau of Briggs Bluff is located within the Grampians National Park. The bluff is accessible via a 5km scramble from the base of the cliff at Beehive Falls (itself a scenic spot especially after the rains), where trail markers lead you through massive boulders, windswept terraces and forests of rich flora to the summit. From the 420m-high plateau, the reward for this 4-5 hour return hike is an unobstructed view of the entire park.
Bluff Knoll, WA
Listed as one of Australia’s top 25 best hikes, Bluff Knoll (1,099m) is the highest peak along the Stirling Range which features stark cliff faces, sheltered gullies, and is one of a few places in Western Australia to experience some snow. The climb to the knoll is a 6km, 4-hour round trip hike, which can be achieved by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. The surrounding park is an important wildflower and plant reserve, housing a rich diversity of colourful blooms. Accessible from the historic town of Kendenup, the Stirling Range is also known for its spectacular cloud formations.
St. Mary Peak, SA
Situated in the ochre-red desert landscape of the Flinders Ranges, the 1,171m-high St. Mary Peak offers sublime views of the surrounding saw-toothed ridges and the plains below, including the dry salt lake of Lake Torrens. Beginning from Wilpena Pound, this is a strenuous 18km return hike via a well-signposted path. The mountain is sacred to the local Adnyamathanha people, therefore hikers are advised to stop at the Tanderra Saddle – just 1.5km shy of the summit – which also offers panoramic views. April to October is the best window to hike in this area, and hikers should start the trek no later than 9 am.
Lamington National Park, OLD
Characterised by rugged mountain scenery at 800m above sea level, Lamington National Park offers plenty of walking trails. The iconic Border Track is a 23km route that links the Green Mountain (or O’Reilly’s) section to the Binna Burra section of the park and can be completed in 6-7 hours. This walk takes you through Antarctic beech forests and subtropical rainforests that are studded with numerous waterfalls, caves and fern gullies, and ascends to the crest of the Border Range, providing views of Mt. Warning and the Tweed Valley. The trail is well-marked and can be attempted by relatively inexperienced bushwalkers.
Mt. Gower, NSW
One of 2 prominent peaks on the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, a trek up to the summit of Mt. Gower (857m) involves a strenuous 14km, 8-hour hike. A licensed guide will be able to get you up to the cloud forested plateau which is accessible via a skinny cliff-side trail – with an unforgiving drop towards the Tasman Sea to one side, fixed ropes provide some added safety. From the top, you’ll be able to appreciate the views of neighbouring Mt. Lidgbird (777m) and much of this small island (and its marine park), including the islet of Balls Pyramid. The island’s rainforest also hides plenty of endemic plants and birds.
Mt. Ainsle, ACT
Overlooking Canberra, Mt. Ainslie (846m) is located on the northern edge of the city, making it entirely doable as a half-day hike. Lying inside the namesake Mt. Ainslie Nature Reserve (itself part of the Canberra Nature Park), its slopes comprise rugged bushland that’s home to many rare species, like the Hooded Robin and Striped Legless Lizard. There’s an easy, paved trail coming up from the Australian War Memorial, and the main lookout has excellent views of nearby Red Hill, with the Mt. Ainslie Walking Trail up to the summit and its famous lookout taking 1.5 hours return; there’s also a shorter Remembrance Trail (30 mins).
Cradle Mountain, TAS
Rising 1,545m from the northern end of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park in Tasmania, the namesake Cradle Mountain is close to the starting point of the 65km, 6-day Overland Track (one of Australia’s top hiking routes). Access to this mountain is via an 8-hour return track from Dove Lake (where you can opt for an exhilarating canyoning experience), with an ascent of 600m via Lake Lilla and Marion’s Lookout. The approach to the misty, jagged summit requires scrambling on some dolerite scree, but the reward – a 360o view across this World Heritage wilderness – is well worth the effort.